- Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism by J. Samaine Lockwood
J. Samaine Lockwood’s Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism argues that the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century colonial revivalism of New England regionalists (an interdisciplinary group that comprised women engaging in cultural work including but not limited to fiction writing) worked to inscribe the figure of the unmarried New England daughter into a narrative of “cosmopolitan dissent” that spanned multiple historical periods (p. 6). Lockwood presents this figure as essential to the sectional character of New England and, by extension, the national character. In the hands of these women regionalists, Lockwood argues, colonial revivalism allowed for an alternative subjectivity for women; in contrast to the dominant form of domestic, maternal subjectivity, New England regionalists modeled and promoted the queer, pleasurable labor of “intimate historicism,” which engaged in “the sensual and intellectual labors of historical generation as a form of dissent” (p. 11). These defiant New England women were intimately involved with archives through writing about the colonial era’s penetration into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, staging historical reenactments, collecting antiques, and renovating colonial homes. In doing so, they subvert the idea of marriage and motherhood as the ultimate patriotic achievements of women.
Lockwood is particularly successful in joining two areas of scholarship. In her focus on gender and sexuality studies, she builds upon those scholars who have examined queer theory in the context of temporality and history, including Christopher Nealon, Annamarie Jagose, Elizabeth Freeman, and Dana Luciano. In her focus on American literary regionalism, Lockwood acknowledges foundational work by, among others, Judith Fetterley, Marjorie Pryse, Stephanie Foote, Sandra Zagarell, Susan Gillman, Kate McCullough, and Jennifer Fleissner. She also explicitly works to counter notions of regionalism as ahistorical or nostalgic. Her attention to these critics is respectful but, significantly, not overly deferential; she seeks to, as she puts it, “trouble the presumed relationship between feminism and historicism within literary studies,” a goal she accomplishes deftly (p. 13). In addition, Archives of Desire investigates the materiality of cultural history and the performativity of identity, thus bringing other areas of increasing scholarly attention into the conversation.
Each of Lockwood’s chapters examines a group of regional intimate historians who engaged with the colonial period as a way to “lay claim to a cosmopolitan notion of dissent and mobility” associated with the young [End Page 539] nation’s rebellion against Great Britain’s imperial rule (p. 16). Chapter one focuses on the queer triadic family, composed of historian C. Alice Baker, painter Susan Minot Lane, and photographer and historian Emma Lewis Coleman, whose collaborative efforts to reclaim and give voice to colonial women simultaneously strove to find space for female historians’ embodied experience of recollection and restoration in the masculine-dominated field of history. Chapter two turns to the literary regionalism of Rose Terry Cooke, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Sarah Orne Jewett, demonstrating how these writers staged their unmarried women characters in conversation with colonial history, a conversation that highlights the potential present for women during the Revolutionary era and that Cooke’s, Freeman’s, and Jewett’s female characters work to regain. Chapter three examines the cultural work of antique china collectors including Annie Trumbull Slosson and Alice Morse Earle. China collecting, Lockwood argues, is intimately and sensually connected to history, and it also affords its female practitioners an opportunity to claim a place for themselves (and for the erotic white female) in a male-dominated lineage. Chapter four returns to literature but broadens the traditional scope of literary regionalism; examining the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Alice Brown, and Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins through their use of “spectral fusions,” or the act of women becoming one with their colonial female foremothers, Lockwood effectively questions the generic boundaries of what has been termed literary regionalism (p. 117).
In each chapter, Lockwood’s skillful unpacking of layers of meaning contained within the lives and...